Ian Martin fears for a future without soot
MONDAY I’m designing a flagship building in King’s Cross. The client is something big on the internet and requires a striking presence.
I propose a 12-storey higgledy-piggledy office block with irregularly spaced windows set in a casual black stone matrix. The whole thing has an odd, top-heavy, almost timber-framed feel. Oh, I’ve got plenty of futuristic stuff happening at ground level, I’m not an idiot. But if you squint, you can imagine we’re in some weird Space Age version of Shakespearean London.
Calling the look ‘Googlebethan’.
TUESDAY Honoured to be keymote speaker at the Soot Association’s conference, Soot Just Got Real.
There’s a buoyant, optimistic mood among soot traders and professional building distressers. Soot is the new gold, and the 21st Century will increasingly be about conserving Earth’s Precious Smut. But we must surely acknowledge the ambivalence everybody feels about this new ‘green energy U-turn’.
On one hand it’s good news that energy providers are phasing out coal-fired stations. The less soot there is, the higher the price per ounce. Even in China, finally, they’re rethinking their profligate waste of soot. Thousands of kilos of it pointlessly saturating the air every day. No wonder China remains a relatively young superpower – if you’re a Chinese citizen over 50, your pulmonary system’s basically a set of wet bagpipes. On the other hand the sooner the world stops producing genuine soot, the prospect – the horror, really – of soot as a finite global resource becomes all too real. And as its value soars, so clients will turn to cheaper synthetic soot for their historic finishes.
An exact replica of Portsmouth’s late lamented Tricorn Centre is currently going up in Beijing’s new ‘Sooti-Bruti Retail Megapark’. Once construction is complete it will be ‘authenticised’ with a generous covering of what looks like kosher post-war soot but is in fact something called ‘substi-soot’, printed at a molecular level in commercial laboratories. Substi-soot is not subject to the regulations that enforce quality control in the soot trade.
Mark my words, the world of soot is about to get a lot darker.
WEDNESDAY Search for, locate and save an image of ‘Santiago At Dusk’. Ditto: ‘Emmental Cheese Slice’. Put cheese slice through ‘Midnight Blue’ filter; import into ‘Santiago At Dusk’ so it looks like amazing alien architecture.
Release the composite image into architecture’s social media shark tank with the caption ‘Apartment Living In The Shadows Of Possibility’. Create a feeding frenzy ‘around my brand’ for the best part of an hour. Bosh.
THURSDAY To the Department of Entertainment (Life and Style Section) for a brain huddle with minister for architecture and luxury housing, the hon. Aeneas Upmother-Brown, and his swarm of pet bees.
They’re still humming with indignation at the widening of their purview, which now includes council estate regeneration, though only from the point at which the estates have been obliterated to make room for luxury flatlets. Now the Centre for Forward Thinking has suggested that these settlements should be ’co-designed’ with developers and locked into legal frameworks to prevent residents from breaking agreements by continuing to live there.
The report admits that ‘despite an enormous potential for capitalised regeneration, the remodelling of council estates has for decades often ignored the needs and concerns of developers’. The CFT has proposed a legal framework so that residents and their pets can be held to account if they renege on their promises to developers.
‘Any other ideas, mm?’ asks Upmother-Brown, solicitously. ‘Mm? MM?’ go the bees. What about, I say, an illustrated children’s book called The Very Compassionate Bulldozer? We could get someone like Caterpillar to sponsor it, maybe find a young illustrator who could copy Eric Carle. Instead of getting paid she could just do it to raise her profile. That’s quite common these days, I hear.
The bees think this is a splendid idea, and hum the opening bars to Mozart’s Concerto Number 23 for Piano and Orchestra. So clever. Upmother-Brown and I applaud, but neither of us has any idea what’s actually been agreed, which I suppose is great in terms of flexibility.
FRIDAY Devise ‘Ubertecture’. It allows customers to hire cheap, dependable designers with no collective bargaining power who depend on client ratings for hang on, I’ve just relabelled reality.
SATURDAY Five-a-zeitgeist exterior finish atmospheric playoff. Soot 1, Patina 0.
SUNDAY Self-collectivise in the recliner.
An anthology of Ian Martin’s AJ columns will be published this year: https://unbound.co.uk/books/epic-space